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CAS LX 522 Syntax I Week 1 b. Morphosyntactic features ch. 2. 1 -2. 4. 1
The atoms of the system n n Syntax tells us which arrangements of words make good sentences. But yet at a certain level the words themselves don’t seem to matter, they aren’t the basic elements of the system. Rather, it is the set of properties each word has that seem to be basic. Verb or not a verb, plural or not plural… n n n n *enthusiastic are students the students are enthusiastic *the student is enthusiastic the students are enthusiastic *the students is enthusiastic this coffee is/*are hot. these muffins are/*is tasty.
Properties… features… n Words have properties. n n n n There is an abstract concept of plural, that is morphologically realized in several different ways. A deer ate my bagel. Deer are funny. A dog ate my bagel. Dogs are funny. A goose ate my bagel. Geese are funny. Same “agreement” requirement, regardless of the actual morphological shape. The abstract property of “plural” (or “singular”) seems to be what the grammar is sensitive to. (Morphosyntactic) features.
Agreement n In English, the subject and the verb of a sentence need to agree in number and (for be) person. n n The dog wants food. The dogs want food. The dog is hungry. The dogs are hungry. I am hungry. We are hungry. If the subject is plural (has a plural feature) then the verb must take on a “plural” form. n n It is crosslinguistically common to have this kind of agreement relation between subject and verb. Intuitively, the plural feature is interpretable on the subject, contributes to the meaning, “belongs there” in some sense. On the verb, the (agreeing) plural feature is just a “reflection”, uninterpretable—more on that later.
Data from other languages n Il a dit qu’ elle était malade he[3. sg] have[3. sg] said that she was ill ‘He said that she was ill. ’ n Ils ont dit qu’ elle était malade they[3. pl] have[3. pl] said that she was ill ‘They said that she was ill. ’ n n Standard 3 -line format for examples from other languages (example, gloss, translation). Why does it matter what other languages do?
What are the features? n “Features are just properties”—but some properties seem to matter for syntax, some don’t. So, the features are actually part of our theory—features are the relevant properties. n n No language says that subject and verb must agree in the feature [invented in early September], although there are things that have this property. For the purpose of describing the grammar and explaining syntactic principles, we don’t care about [invented in early September]. We have evidence, though, that [plural] matters to syntax. We’re looking for the minimal (least complicated) set of features that suffices to explain the grammar.
[plural] n We know number matters. In English, things can be singular or plural. So, a first guess is that nouns have either a [singular] feature or a [plural] feature. n n Hypothesis: [sg] and [pl] are features a word can have. Prediction: Four classes of words: [sg], [pl], [sg. pl], . n n But we really only have two classes in English. This hypothesis overgenerates—it predicts the existence of the actual distinctions, but it also predicts other distinctions that don’t exist.
[plural] n We observed the data (nouns can be singular or plural in English), we stated a hypothesis, which made predictions. We checked the predictions… and it doesn’t seem right. So, we’ll revise. The scientific method. n There is a simpler story we can tell, one that predicts exactly two classes. [plural] for plurals,  for singulars. n
Overgeneration / undergeneration n n Already we have the basic structure of our theory and a means of analysis evaluation. Two independent features [pl] and [sg] predict four combinations, overgenerates. n n n All attested combinations are predicted. Some predicted combinations are not attested. An analysis that says “All words are singular” undergenerates. n n All predicted combinations are attested. Some attested combinations are not predicted.
What kind of thing is a feature? n If we view a feature like [plural] as being eithere or not, it is a privative feature. n n Plurals have [plural], singulars don’t. We might also view a feature like [plural] as having one of two values. This is a binary valued feature. n Plurals have [+plural], singulars have [ plural]. n We don’t know from the outset which view is the best for describing syntax, we want to choose the one that best captures the generalizations we see. The two views do make different predictions—about what syntax can “see. ”
Duals n For English, either a privative [plural] feature or a binary-valued [±plural] feature would work. In English there are two classes for number, singular and plural. n Some languages also have a dual, a number reserved for pairs. Classical Arabic, for example, and Hopi.
Hopi morphology n n n Pam taaqa wari that man ran[sg] ‘That man ran. ’ Puma ta’taq-t yu’ti those man[pl] ran[pl] ‘Those men ran. ’ Puma ta’taq-t wari those man[pl] ran[sg] ‘Those two men ran. ’ n In Hopi, the dual is expressed by combining singular and plural. n If we analyzed dual as [+pl, +sg] (or as [pl, sg]), we have a kind of explanation for that.
The fourth number? n Three numbers are attested in the world’s languages: singular, plural, and dual. n We can handle this by going back to the view that [sg] and [pl] are independent. n Singular: [sg] Plural: [pl] Dual: [sg, pl] n n n The fourth possibility should be neither. But there doesn’t seem to be a fourth number. n Hypothesis: General constraint on grammars: Nouns must have some number feature, [sg] is the default, added in if there is no number feature already. n (We’ll return to this)
Words and language n Let’s take a moment to lay out the general structure of this theory. n Knowing a language is knowing the “words” n knowing how to put them together n knowing how to pronounce them n knowing what they mean in combination. n
The lexicon n To construct a sentence, we start with the “words” and put them together. n We can describe the knowledge of the words of a language as being a list, a mental lexicon.
Interfaces n Lexicon We can view a “word” as a bundle of features, as defined by its properties. The grammar assembles words into sentences. The sentence is interpreted and pronounced. n n Grammar n A-P system C-I system The assembly process is the grammar proper. The system that interprets sentences is another cognitive module concerned with meaning, reasoning, etc. It interprets the constructed sentence at the interface. The system that determines the pronunciation of sentences is yet another cognitive module, interpreting the constructed sentence at its interface.
Tension n For English, it seems that independent [sg] and [pl] features is more complicated than we need, it seems to overgenerate. n Since we’re striving to explain the grammatical system underlying all languages, we need a hypothesis about what is different in languages with no dual (e. g. , English). n n In the broader picture, Language needs to allow for independent [sg] and [pl] features in order to accommodate duals in, e. g. , Hopi. One possibility: The feature [sg] is not recorded in the English lexicon. Book , books [pl]. n n All languages have singulars, but in languages without duals, singular is the default, the “number for nouns not specified for number. ” So languages can differ in whether they record [sg] in the lexicon.
What are the features? n Hard to say. A universal set, some used in some languages, but not others? Learned? n Some features seem not to exist, why? n Ockham’s razor again—we want to define the simplest set of features we can to explain the data.
Category n n Syntax is concerned with distribution. Words seem to come in distributional classes. n n For example, one class of words can appear after the possessive pronoun my (my book, *my at, *my quickly, *my explode, *my purple). The nouns. One class of words is compatible with past tense. The verbs. One class of words is compatible with comparative (happier). The adjectives. Words can be separated into classes: noun, verb, adjective, preposition, etc. n Classes also vary with respect to the kind of morphological endings they can have, and so forth. (Arrival, replacement, destruction; widen, computerize)
Distribution examples They have no noun. n They can verb. n They are adjective. n Very adverb, very adjective. n n n so long as it makes sense (e. g. , with gradable adjectives; #they are very absent) Right preposition n right over the house
Nouns and verbs n Nouns have a category feature [N]. n n Verbs have a category feature [V]. n n Books [N, pl]. Complained [V] Two independent features, four predicted categories: n n [N, V]  (adjectives) (prepositions)
Binary vs. privative n n There’s something unsettling about saying the prepositions simply lack category features (neither nominal nor verbal). We can soothe ourselves somewhat by adopting binary category features instead of privative features: n n n [+N, -V] [+N, +V] [-N, -V] [-N, +V] noun adjective preposition verb Same predictions, but more in line with our intuition about what “category” should be.
[±N, ±V] n n Consider what un- can attach to: n n n The [±N, ±V] category system may seem a bit “out of the blue. ” But it does yield some descriptive benefit. untie, unfold, unwrap, unpack unhappy, unfriendly, undead *uncity, *uncola, *unconvention *unupon, *unalongside, *unat Basically, it applies to reversible verbs and adjectives, but not to nouns or prepositions. n How can we state that in terms of our category features?
Russian case n n n Case is a morphological form nouns take on depending on where they are in the sentence (subject vs. object). English pronouns show this distinction: I like her, she likes me. Some languages (like Russian) show differing case forms on all nouns. When Russian nouns are modified by an adjective, the adjective is also marked for case. What gets marked for Case in Russian? Krasivaya dyevushka vsunula chornuyu koshku v pustuyu korobku beautiful girl put black cat in empty box ‘The beautiful girl put the black cat in the empty box’
Lexical and functional n n n Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs: These are lexical categories. They carry significant and arbitrary meaning, and they are open-class (new ones can be invented). But not all words are of this kind (except maybe those on telegrams 1). Sentences are held together by little “function words” as well. These are the functional categories. We will discuss these more later. n I expect that the CEO will want to retire. n 1 Telegram: Ancient form of instant messaging
Lexical and functional n Functional categories are like the syntactic “glue” of a sentence, concerned more with grammatical properties. n n n n Determiners: the, a(n) Quantifiers (determiners): some, every Demonstratives: that, this, those Possessive pronouns: my, your Any old pronouns: you, him, they Infinitival to Auxiliaries/Modals: have, be, do, can, should Complementizers: that, for, if
Determiners n Determiners generally come before a noun, and come in a few different types. n n n Articles: the, an Quantificational determiners: some, most Interrogative determiner: which Demonstratives: that, this Possessive pronouns: my, your, their These types are similar to… and different from… one another. For now, we’ll lump them together.
Determiners v. adjectives n n n Can we lump determiners together with adjectives? Maybe we could have a simpler theory of categories if we just put determiners and adjectives together. They both come before nouns (in English) They both seem to “modify” the noun. n n Tall building. That building. A building. My building.
Determiners v. adjectives n n n The big fluffy pink rabbit The my rabbit The that rabbit Every my rabbit To properly describe the distribution of these elements, we really need to separate them into two classes. Lumping them together will not give us a simpler descriptive system. n n Determiners cannot co-occur with other determiners, and must precede any adjectives. Adjectives can occur with other adjectives.
Pronouns differ from nouns in a couple of ways (example: case marking), and should be considered a functional category. n The pronouns of English express person, number, and gender. n 1 st person: I, me, we, us n 2 nd person: you n 3 rd person: he, she, him, her, they, them, it n
Auxiliaries and modals n Different from verbs: have, be, do, will, can, might. n n Will you leave? Can you leave? Do you leave often? *Leave you often? n n Auxiliaries occur before not, verbs don’t. You will not leave. You did not leave. *You left not. n n In questions, auxiliaries “invert” with the subject, verbs don’t. Notice the extra do: “do-support”. Auxiliaries are responsible for things like tense, mood, modality, aspect, voice. Grammatical things.
Infinitival to n I like to go to the movies. n n Kind of looks like a preposition, but it’s not. Prepositions take nouns, to as a P has a kind of contentful meaning (endpoint of a path). Infinitival to takes (bare) verbs only, means nothing (apart from “untensed”). It might be more like a modal: To and modals (can, might, should) seem to appear in the same place (between the subject and a bare verb form). I like that John can pick up his own dry-cleaning. I’d like for John to pick up his own dry-cleaning.
Complementizers n n n Pat will leave. I heard that Pat will leave. I wonder if Pat will leave. I am anxious for Pat to leave. It is perfectly possible to embed a sentence inside another one. When we do this, it is indicated with a complementizer (introducing a complement clause).
The P for v. the C for n For is of course a preposition (I looked for you for three hours), but not when it is introducing clauses. He headed right for the back row. n *He’d like right for the class to be over. n *He expressed interest in the class to be over. n Who would you vote for in the election? n *Who are you anxious for to win the election? n
The D that v. the C that n Same kind of thing holds for that. I liked that movie. n I heard that the movie involved guinea pigs. n n Sometimes you can replace for clauses with that clauses. It is important that Pat votes. n It is important for Pat to vote. n
Regrouping n Lexical categories: n n But there are many more than four categories. n n N: noun A: adjective V: verb P: preposition We started a feature decomposition of these by proposing that they are labels for feature bundles like [±N, ±V], which can characterize certain natural classes across categories. Aux: auxiliary C: complementizer Adv: adverb D: determiner PRN: pronoun T: modals … So, we would need more features to make all of the distinctions. n We won’t pursue that, however (we’ll just use the labels, like N, V, A, P, D, T, C, etc. ).
Feature grouping n Features themselves seem to be grouped. n n Consider: category. n n And this is the way we’ll think of them for much of the course. [±N] is a feature, [±V] is a feature. There must be others to handle D, T, C, etc. But together they constitute the syntactic category. We can write this like [Cat: +N-V], and in fact we’ll generally just write [N] as a shorthand for that. n We’ll see other groupings. E. g. , Number could be [Number: sg, pl] (for dual). Although number will in fact be part of a larger grouping including gender and person.